Once again we are being treated to the latest confrontation in the ongoing saga known as Armed With Reason versus The Crime Prevention Research Center – the former a research effort led by two economists out of Oklahoma, Devin Hughes and Evan DeFilippis; the latter a fundraising and self-promotional effort conducted by and for John Lott. These combatants have been going at each other for the last several years, with Hughes and DeFilippis trying to maintain some degree of objectivity in what they say and John Lott doing what he does best, namely, reminding everyone that if he said it then it must be true because he said it.
Lott’s most recent rebuke of Hughes and DeFilippis was published on his personal blog earlier this year in what appears to be a lengthy and detailed comment running perhaps 4,000 or more words. One of the things that makes Lott a formidable adversary is precisely the fact that he is verbose to the point of near-insanity; he overwhelms the reader with data and/or text, he pulls in other references from here, there and God knows where. For a guy who has mastered the art of one-linership which he uses with abandon in his endless appearances on the Fox, shock-jock AM radio circuit, he goes to the other extreme when he puts his thoughts into print.
Not only do Hughes and DeFilippis refuse to be intimidated by Lott’s over-abundant style, they have actually read every word that Lott has written defending his thesis that more guns equals less crime, and this article debunks much of what Lott says in straightforward, clear terms. In particular, they cover two issues which I always felt have been handled by Lott in ways that have little, if anything to do with the truth.
The first issue has to do with the validity of the data used by Lott to support his claim that when personal-defense gun ownership goes up as judged by the issuance of CCW licenses, the rate of violent crime goes down. Leaving aside the question of whether there’s any relationship between the number of CCW licenses issued and the number of people actually carrying self-defense guns (an issue that neither Lott nor his critics have ever bothered to raise), the county-wide crime data allegedly used by Lott is so thin in many cases and so unrepresentative of overall crime trends as to be basically useless for arguing anything related to guns or crime at all. In fact, Lott has mentioned that county-level data at least allows him to see differences in crime rates between cities as opposed to rural zones. But he has never admitted that urban-rural differences in criminal patterns probably bias his work to a degree that makes it shaky at best, untenable at worst. To their credit, Hughes and DeFilippis drive this point home.
My other pet peeve with Lott, actually related to the previous, is the fact that most communities with substantial numbers of CCW-licensed residents also happen to be places with very little crime. And this was not the result of an increase in CCW; it was always true for most places that have been granting more CCW licenses over the last ten years. Hughes and DeFilippis call Lott out on this issue properly and persuasively; the push by Lott and others to create an armed citizenry to protect us from crime has been most successful in areas where all those armed citizens find themselves with nothing to do.
I’m giving Hughes and DeFilippis a ‘high-five’ for their response to John Lott. But I’m also going to issue them a challenge, namely, to figure out how to undo some of the damage that John Lott has caused. Like it or not, a majority of Americans now believe that keeping a gun around makes one safe. And these folks need to hear and learn how little truth there is in such claims. They certainly won’t hear it from John Lott.